Joseph and Jane (Schuster) Falcone, '74, in the Science Center greenhouse that bears their name.
Learning Spaces

Biology alumni enrich student learning in Science Center greenhouse

With an extensive farming operation in Chautauqua County, you would expect Joseph and Jane (Schuster) Falcone to have deep roots in the soil. And they do, growing Concord grapes, vegetables, corn, soybeans and small grains. But they’ve also branched out beyond their Forestville acreage in an important way to help prepare Fredonia students to become the next generation of scientists.

Through the Joseph and Jane (Schuster) Falcone Biology Endowment for Scholarship and Research, the Falcones are providing generous financial support to the Biology program. Their commitment to students is recognized in the Science Center’s greenhouse, which bears the Falcone name and is one of 27 named spaces in the Science Center that opened in 2014.

Recognizing the Falcones at the greenhouse was a good fit, noted Interim Vice President for University Advancement Betty Gossett. It connects the couple’s livelihood in agriculture with their support of scholarships, Department of Biology Department and other initiatives. Fredonia is also part of their heritage; Joseph earned a M.S. in Biology, Jane a B.S., also in Biology, both in 1974.

The greenhouse is a “hot bed” of activity for more than the obvious reason. Six student-interns are there each semester gaining valuable research experience, while another 10 to 20 students work on various projects for Biology and Environmental Science courses. The greenhouse is used extensively by Biology Professor Jonathan Titus in his research activities and the lab portion of two courses, Introduction to Ecology and Evolution, and Plant Taxonomy.

Since 2012, Falcone funds have supported summer research fellowships awarded to eight undergraduate students along with an annual stipend for a greenhouse intern who works under Dr. Titus’ mentorship and supervision.

“Summer research fellowships are critically important to help students interested in research spend considerable time during a 10-week period to immerse themselves in a mentored research project that can be used as their senior capstone experience,” explained Patricia Astry, chair, of the Department of Biology. That project may serve as an important part of their application to graduate or professional school, she noted.

Titus described the new greenhouse is modern, efficient and far more conducive to student research than the old greenhouse in Jewett Hall, the science building erected more than 50 years ago. Its four adjoining rooms contain 25 percent more space and include a headroom, or staging area, where pots, tools, compost and other materials are stored, that the old greenhouse lacked. Falcone funding is used to purchase supplies and materials used in the greenhouse.

A new feature of the greenhouse will be a fountain, designed by Department of Visual Arts and New Media Professor Tim Frerichs, that students will begin building this semester.

Several students are currently working on a seed bank project for the rare black oak savanna ecosystem, which seeks to identify the species of seeds that are present in the soil and thereby dictate the future composition of the imperiled ecosystem. Implications of the research will help to influence the future direction of land management for black oak savanna sites, Titus explained. Another student is currently working on allelopathy experiments, which explore how plant species use chemicals to outcompete other plant species.